How quickly things change.
When Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia based on the collaborative website models known as “wikis,” first surfaced a few years back, critics were quick to dismiss it as a convenient – but ultimately unreliable – research tool.
But with the passage of a few years, Wikipedia has evolved into a perfectly acceptable starting-off point for researchers of all stripes, and wikis themselves play an integral role in classroom instruction for all ages.
Just ask Helena Baert, a recent graduate of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management, whose studies have focused on how wikis can be incorporated into Phys. Ed. teachers’ education.
“If they’re doing a project – a big, collaborative paper – they can work on it together and enhance their learning of a concept,” explains Baert, who earned her Master of Science degree at U of M in 2008, and is now pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Arkansas.
“It extends the learning environment … instead of just giving them a paper, we use a wiki as much more of a collaborative effort. And we find they’re learning much more through this collaborative effort, rather than just doing a paper and handing it in individually.”
As Baert explains it, a wiki is a writeable, editable web page that can be updated or amended by anyone with access (unlike Wikipedia, most classroom models are set up so that only those with a direct involvement can make changes).
In addition to using wiki technology as a teaching tool, Baert also encourages students to create wikis for their portfolios and C.V.’s, and she herself keeps all her course information and lesson plans in wiki format.
“I’m probably the graduate student with the fewest phone calls from students, because it’s all there, the syllabus and everything, so they can’t lose it,” she quips.
Working with wikis allows students and teachers alike to familiarize themselves with new technology, while sharpening their writing and editing skills, and learning how best to offer constructive criticism.
“They’re actually aware that people are reading this,” says Baert, a transplant from the Flemish region of Belgium. “It’s not like I’m writing a paper that only my professor will see. It’s like the whole world will see this, so you have to be careful and it has to be accurate.”
It also encourages users to contribute to the group learning process, which is especially beneficial for students who might otherwise feel uncomfortable taking the reins.
“We call it instructional scaffolding,” she continues. “Somebody starts off, and then they light someone else’s fire so they add something, and then that one lights someone else’s fire, so they add again.”
Most importantly, Baert points out, wikis teach users to work together as much as possible, creating an environment in which great value is placed on the sharing of information.
“If you have something good, you should share it with others, so they can do something good, too,” says Baert, whose 2008 thesis (entitled Wiki & TGFU: A Collaborative Approach to Understanding Games Education) recently earned her a Thesis Recognition of Excellence Award from the Canadian Association of Teacher Education.
“A lot of people want to keep things for themselves, which is very ego-centric. But the wiki enforces a collaborative method. Because we are all teachers, and it’s easier to learn together, rather than alone.”
For more information about Baert’s work, see http://peforever.pbworks.com/